Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966). Director: Richard Fleischer.

Improbable but highly enjoyable tale of a research team that is shrunken down to microscopic size and injected into the body of a scientist with a tumor that can only be operated on from inside the brain. Once you suspend disbelief, this picture just grabs hold of you and never lets go, with actors who do a nice job of suggesting the disquiet they must be feeling (in reality, hardly anyone would sign up for this assignment!) Nearly forty years after its release the special effects still hold up and aren't a bit cheesy. [A planned remake of this film never materialized; maybe because wiser heads realized it didn't need to be remade.] Exciting scenes include the race through the heart, which has been temporarily stopped so as not to shatter the undersea vehicle which the scientists are traveling in; the attack of the antibodies that cover Raquel Welch's shapely form from head to toe; the white corpuscle that eats Donald Pleasance; and so on. Stephen Boyd, as the agent who reluctantly goes along on the voyage, functions as the audience surrogate, hardly believing what he's living through but living through it all the same. Pleasance is in the hammy-horror-movie mode that dominated his screen persona in later years [for a look at Pleasance the fine actor instead of the freak, check out the old Twilight Zone episode entitled "Changing of the Guard,” in which Pleasance – yes, Donald Pleasance – gives a sensitive and excellent performance.] Arthur Kennedy, Edmond O'Brian, and other old pros have no problem handling material which isn't exactly a challenge for them (the movie has a great idea, not great characters). What Fantastic Voyage does have is some superlative sets which help create a whole, new, eerie and compelling universe to explore, and the picture is rich in atmosphere. The blue screen process which blends actors with the backgrounds of arterial and fluid landscapes is handled adroitly. Leonard Rosenman's quirky score, which at times sounds almost atonal, is the perfect background for this kind of movie. The movie won deserved Oscars for special effects, set direction, and art direction. It absolutely MUST be seen in letterbox for the whole Cinemascope effect. NOTE: In his novelization of the screenplay, Isaac Asimov made a couple of corrections. Apparently the filmmakers didn't realize that the shrunken sub wouldn't be able to take air directly from the lungs because the air molecules would be too big, so Asimov added a portable miniaturizer to the sub. They also assumed that the white corpuscle would completely absorb Pleasance and the wrecked submarine so that they could not grow large again and burst out of comatose scientist's body; Asimov has the surviving scientists wisely take the sub and Pleasance out of the body with them.

Verdict: Great science fiction. ***1/2.


Neil A Russell said...

I thought they didn't take the sub I have to watch this again.

One of the other characters was a favorite actor of mine; William Redfield who turned in a terrific performance in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and without a doubt one of the best performances ever as Mr Beckett in Elaine May's incomparable "A New Leaf", which (not to change the subject, but I will) if you haven't seen it, is one of the most underrated and well executed movies of all time.

I can't think of another instance where a studio chopped an hour out of a movie and not only completely changed the concept but ended up a picture so perfect.

Ok, how do I get back on subject...Raquel Welch was really hot in this...there

William said...

Mad magazine did a very funny spoof of this and had fun showing the guys pulling the anti-bodies or whatever they were off of Welch's shapely body over and over again!

Redfield was a fine actor, and I have also liked 'A New Leaf' -- will have to look at it again sometime.